Parkview Health frequently communicates via email with its 8,800 employees, many of them doctors and nurses who work at bedsides, not desks.
So far the Fort Wayne, Ind., hospital group hasn’t measured its internal email, leaving communicators unsure whether messages are hitting home. So Parkview plans to begin measuring in the foreseeable future.
According to a PoliteMail/Ragan online survey of self-identified 775 communicators and IT professionals, 32 percent of organizations don’t measure internal email, but many are eager to get going.
Of those who don’t measure, 73 percent plan to start within a year; the rest say they will crank up their measurement within three years.
Many say they have been hindered by lack of tools, time and manpower, budget or priorities, the survey shows. But even those who don’t measure recognize the insights measurement could reveal.
The benefits are obvious to Eric Clabaugh, Parkview’s public information manager. Beyond learning how many employees actually read emails, he would like to know when and how often staffers are accessing messages, he says.
Reading email after hours?
“Are they doing it from home, after hours?” he said. “What style do they do they prefer to read their email in? … Would they rather just receive bullet points from us, almost talking points on what’s happening with a particular item, or do they want a three-paragraph, four-paragraph summary?”
The matter is simple, says Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology. If you wish to know whether you’re getting through, you must measure internal email as you would any other form of communication.
“You can’t fix something that you’re not measuring,” he says. “You just don’t know if it’s working if all you’re going to do is send it out and say, ‘We’re done.'”
Michigan Blood, a nonprofit blood bank with about 400 employees and 600 volunteers statewide, aims to begin measuring internal email within a year, says Dionne Wetzel, communications coordinator.
The organization wants to find out which communication channels work and which don’t, particularly for differing types of information, such as staff newsletters or quick bits of information. Also, the need for measurement is high in a metrics-driven organization.
“We send our staff newsletter out to everybody by email—[we] also print it—and we still hear people say, ‘I didn’t know that,'” Wetzel says. “So they may be opening it, but they’re not reading it.”
Using email measurement to track performance
Employers have the right to monitor and even read employees’ email, but doing so without informing them can create ill will, says Christopher S. Penn, vice president of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications. As long as employees are fully informed, email measurement can be an effective tool in evaluating performance, he says.
SHIFT tracks how many employees are reading its weekly newsletter, which contains important information on how to do their jobs, he says. This can help identify the go-getters versus those who aren’t engaged.
Employees who avidly read information the firm provides see their scores go up. They might even be asked to become brand ambassadors or go out on the speaking circuit.
By contrast, human resources staffers work with those whose scores are low, telling them: “Hey, you’re missing out on stuff. Do you feel like your job is getting more frustrating? … You have to be aware of this. Would you be interested in a little more assistance?” Penn says.
If you are monitoring email in this way, he says, you should “be aware of your intentions” and tell employees what you are doing and why. He used to work in IT and run the mail server for a bank that monitored employees’ email “looking for bad stuff, rather than good stuff,” he says.
This created a culture of mistrust and paranoia because if it felt like “thought police” were looking over your shoulder, well, they were.
“I think it’s important to be able to identify people who show initiative, who are curious, who really do invest the extra time to follow you in communications,” Penn says.
Reducing the flood
ITW, a diversified industrial manufacturer that employs nearly 51,000 people in 56 countries, uses email to communicate among the 500 staffers who work at corporate headquarters in Glenview, Ill. Other sites have different systems, but communications can send a message globally through IT.
“Email at corporate is our only method of communication other than traditional walk-around or phone calls,” says Karen Warlin, director of HR Communications. “So to get anything important out to people, we need to use email or Outlook as a meeting invite.”
Warlin would like to use measurement to help reduce the flood of email and gather data to build a business case for other methods of communication, such as social media tools. She also would like to establish email targeted to specific project teams, something SharePoint can do, she says.
At Parkview, Clabaugh also says email is now the only means of communication. It is used for messages such as the chief executive’s weekly memo, way-finding announcements (such as closed hallways), and shout-outs to staff. (How about that doctor at a restaurant saving the life of a man who went into cardiac arrest?)
Parkview is surveying staff about how they wish to receive messages, the first step in a longer-term plan that will include email measurement.
“That will be our starting point to guide the bigger strategy in 2015,” Clabaugh says.